“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.” Also from last week, R.E.M. hangs it up after 31 years (notwithstanding a greatest hits album, to be released in November.)
The official site has been keeping up with the various encomiums and remembrances on the web. For my part, here’s the list of my 50 favorite R.E.M. songs that I posted in 2005, along with the R.E.M. archives and reviews of Around the Sun and Accelerate. To be honest, I feel like the band has been flirting with U2-covering-themselves territory on the last two albums, but, as a whole, I’ll stand up for their often-maligned later work — Up in particular.
Growing up in the South in the 80’s and 90’s, R.E.M. was ubiquitous. I remember Life’s Rich Pageant accompanying elementary school hayrides, everyone wearing their “Turn You Inside Out” concert tees to school in 8th grade, and crooning “Losing My Religion” with what passed for my high-school band at GSSM. To many of us down in “South Carolina-ravaged South Carolina,” they — and the nearby Athens, Georgia scene — represented a smart, cosmopolitan, and activist left that was still distinctively rooted in the South. Basically, they proved that being southern and being progressive were by no means mutually exclusive.
When I got to college, R.E.M. let their hair down, shook off the earnest stylings of Out of Time and Automatic for the People and decided to release a Monster. It, along with the Beastie’s Ill Communication, are basically the reasons I spent my early sophomore year shorn. (This was taken a few months later.)
And in November of 2004, a few days after Dubya was re-elected, I caught REM as the Garden, where, for the first and only time, they opened with “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” It summed up the moment, precisely.